Science Fiction Often Wins the Bechdel Test By Breaking it — Which is Part of its Job
Sara Lynn Michener
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I want to address what I see as holes in your argument for Blade Runner 2049 as a feminist film.

Firstly, you provide two articles that would deny Blade Runner 2049 the adjective ‘feminist;’ ‘Blade Runner Has a Woman Problem’ and The Politics of Blade Runner Aren’t That Futuristic.’ However, ‘Woman Problem’ was written by Ryan J. Downey, a man according to his bio on Movieweb. It’s entirely possible that Mr. Downey is a feminist. What is not possible is for him speak for feminism generally. What constitutes feminism must necessarily be decided by women.

Second, you assert that feminism is an “attainable social and political ideal.” That sentence contradicts itself; ideals are by definition unattainable. For our culture to be ideally feminist, American society would have to be reconstructed. Therefore, almost all feminist adjectives are awarded to works of art that do not depict an achieved ideal. These are works, like Star Trek Discovery, that inspire deeper conversation. Blade Runner 2049 is not one of these. As much as I liked the movie.

You argue that despite failing the Blechdel Test, Blade Runner 2019 passes in spirit because it critically considers the patriarchy. I argue that it does not do so with any creativity or depth, and as such does not earn a pass on a simplistic feminism test. Blade Runner 2049 is not feminist because of its context or content; misogyny is not addressed in any way. It simply reflects personhood metaphorically.

Though Joi, Lt. Joshi and Luv are all incredibly interesting characters, their complexity is individual. No consideration is given to women as a group in dystopian LA. Depictions of strong female characters are not enough to make a movie feminist. To be feminist, strong female characters must exist outside of the male gaze.

You assume that Blechdel is testing for better female representation through more varied depictions of character. I think Blechdel is a shortcut for something far deeper. It is examining the female community within a film; do women only exist with men, or do women exist separately from men. This is a powerful analysis on the effect the male gaze has on the representation of women in culture.

In Blade Runner 2049, not passing the Blechdel Test means that any depiction of oppression is explored through the replicant metaphor embodied by Ryan Gosling. With a cishet white man as the locus of oppression, the metaphor is so far abstracted that it can only comment on reality generally. Specific oppressions, like racism or sexism, are not addressed by the plot.

Metaphors can be potent social commentaries, and Ryan Gosling’s K is poignant and very real. K is a compelling protagonist. But K’s struggles with identity and personhood reflect best on our relationship with technology, as experienced through male heterosexuality. How this dystopian future has affected women is not explored with any thoughtfulness.

But is important to remember that just because Blade Runner 2049 is not feminist does not mean it is sexist. It certainly dabbles in sexist cliches — Rachel as some deified holy mother being the most glaring to me — but this is where the strength/weakness of Luv, the bigotry of Lt. Joshi, and the fragility of Joi keep it from comparison to the original Blade Runner.

I respond only because this sort analysis works to encourage the idea that feminists are far too sensitive, their standards unrealistic. I know this is not your intention. But trying to argue that Blade Runner 2049 counts as a feminist film, instead of a film that mitigates its sexism, lowers the quality of the equality feminists ask for. It is very possible that any sequel to 2049, centering around Dr. Ana Stelline, could be feminist. But until we get a good look into how women live in 2049, the franchise cannot be considered feminist.

The most feminist moment in Blade Runner 2049 was when Wallace guts a newborn replicant in front of Luv, all the while rambling about his godhood. Luv locks eyes with a helpless female android, watches her tremble and bleed out. There is nothing that separates Luv from the dead replicant except Wallace’s favor. Luv’s devotion to her creator is an uneven mixture of awe and fear. Luv truly believes Wallace is a superior creature, a god, even if she is “more human than human.” So she dies for a the system that oppresses her.